Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Obama Freezes Transfers of Yemeni Prisoners from Guantanamo

Even the news agencies recognize that Barack Obama's decision to suspend the transfer of prisoners already cleared for release from Guantanamo indefinite detention to their home country of Yemen is due to political pressures.

The pressures are stemming from the Christmas Day would-be bombing of a jet by a 23-year-old Al Qaeda recruit, who lit himself on fire in his attempt to set off the explosives he was carrying. Since then, war chatter from Washington has centered around fears regarding the disintegration of the Yemeni state, and in particular by the supposed several hundred Al Qaeda members residing there.

There are major separatist movements in both the north and south of the country. Saudi and U.S. jets have attacked the Houthi Shi'ite rebels in the north in the past month. While the U.S. press is fixated on the smaller Al Qaeda "insurgency", the rebellion in the north is far bigger. As of last November, 10,000 Houthis were living in makeshift UN refugee camps, with thousands more said to be pouring in every week.

From the Economist:
Whether or not there is a link to Iran, the rebellious Houthis have long been a thorn in the side of governments in Sana’a. But they —- and Yemen’s Zaydis in general -— have not usually been keen to spread or impose their version of Islam. They insist that they simply want a better deal from the central government for their impoverished northern region. Abdul Malik al-Houthi and Yahya al-Houthi, two brothers of the late [Houthi leader] Hussein, argue that they are merely defending their beleaguered community from the government’s aggression and discrimination.

President Saleh denies that he wants to do down the Houthis. He is himself a Zaydi, whose adherents may account for more than a quarter of the country’s 25m people, most of whom follow the Shafi school of Sunni Islam, one of its main four.

In any event, the Saudi intervention has helped Yemen’s own hard-pressed forces. But the Houthis, whose armed rebels are said to number anything from 2,000 to 10,000, are far from defeated. They dig tunnels into the mountains, lay roadside ambushes and hit Yemeni and Saudi patrols with “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs) similar to those that insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan use against Western forces and their local allies.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has released a statement regarding the decision of the Obama administration to suspend the transfers of the Guantanamo Yemeni prisoners:
Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government’s Guantànamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts. Many are about to begin their ninth year in indefinite detention.

Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable. It will also effectively prevent any meaningful progress towards closing Guantánamo, which President Obama has repeatedly argued will make our nation safer.

As we approach the eighth anniversary of Guantánamo and the president’s failed deadline for its closure, it is important to remember that the vast majority of the men at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place, and that over 550 have been released and are peacefully rebuilding their lives. Most of the nearly 800 men who were brought to Guantánamo were not captured by the American military on any battlefield, but seized in broad sweeps during the chaos of the Afghan war or in other locations around the world and sold to the U.S. in exchange for substantial bounties. We know from the military’s own records that most of the detainees at Guantánamo have no link to terrorism.

When he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama said, ‘We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it's easy, but when it is hard.’ What he said in December should be just a true a month later.
For more information on who these prisoners are, check out this excellent article by Andy Worthington, which tells the story of some of these prisoners.

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